Chain of Dogs
After a short wait Prior John arrived. Like Gideon, he was visibly surprised, and pleased, to see the three companions, and took a moment to give thanks for their deliverance. They discussed the group’s escape from Lahm Sealguire and subsequent events at Newcastle and Vindolanda. John had already heard of the battle of Newcastle, and had learned of Vindolanda’s fall from a mounted messenger bound for Durham the day before. He explained that many refugees from the north were passing through Hexham, and the last few citizens of the town were also preparing to leave.
The Prior tended to the Archbishop as best he could, but declared that the older man’s affliction was beyond his powers to heal. He prayed for Uther’s soul, and spoke to the group about escorting the refugees south. As Prior, John felt that it was his duty to stay at the Priory to provide a safe house for any further refugees from the north, despite the likelihood that an undead horde would descend upon the town in the near future.
“They may slow you down a little,” the Prior said, “but I can offer you an ox-cart for the Archbishop and for Uther, which should make the journey more bearable for you all.” Since the companions were heading south anyway, and marvelling at the Prior’s bravery, they readily agreed to escort a group of refugees to Durham.
After a night’s sleep on the hard priory floor along with several dozen refugees, the companions gratefully ate bowls of hot stew before readying themselves for the journey to come. Emerging into the town square, they saw a group of more than fifty refugees together with five ox carts. One of these was reserved for the Archbishop, whose body was swaddled in thick blankets against the cold, and the body of Uther. The other four were filled with sacks of provisions, young children, nursing mothers and the old and infirm.
It took a while for the wagons to get moving, but by mid-morning they were making steady progress to the south. The five wagons made up the spine of the column, with refugees shuffling though the snow to either side. Tector led the column, with Mary of Stamford bringing up the rear and Sophia and Mary’s young Templars flanking close on either side of refugees. Storm made good use of his draconic wings, ranging far and wide in all directions to scout, safeguarding against any surprise attack.
Toward the end of the first day, the column arrived at an abandoned hamlet. As the weather was closing in, they decided to take cover in the huts and built fires for warmth. Watches were posted but the night passed uneventfully and they were even able to boil a hot stew for breakfast before setting off once more on the slow trudge to the south.
The column continued its progress for several hours, with Storm scouting far and wide once more. Around noon, he was a mile or two northwest when he heard a canine howl in the distance. The sound sent a shiver down his spine, as he recognised the unearthly cry of a demon hound!
Flying toward the sound, he heard another cry, before spying the hound loping between the bare trees of the light woods below, moving toward the column of refugees. Swooping overhead, the dragonborn immediately called upon his sorcery, sending a lightning orb slamming into the demon. It was taken by surprise and twisted its head upwards, snarling. Storm sent another lightning orb slamming into the beast, hitting it square in the face. Yelping with pain, the hound glared up at the sorcerer, its eyes glowing with an unearthly light. Waves of pain washed over the dragonborn and his body began to convulse.
Struggling to stay airborne, Storm slammed another lightning orb into the hound, hitting its front leg and sending it tumbling into a snowdrift. Regaining control, the dragonborn heard another howl close by, and turned to see a second hound loping toward him. Still shaking with pain, the sorcerer decided that discretion was the better part of valour, turning and flying back to the column as quickly as his wings would carry him.
Arriving there a few minutes later, he swooped down, yelling that they were under attack from demon hounds and dark elves. This caused panic among the refugees, some of whom ran off into the woods to the east. Mary and Sophia tried to calm them, helping the old and young from the wagons and getting everyone to take cover to the east of the column, on the far side from the approaching hounds. Meanwhile, Tector, Storm and the Templars lined up on the western side of the wagons, readying themselves for the attack.
The hounds were on them in seconds, four of them bounding from the bare woods to the west. One was limping, clearly badly wounded from Storm’s earlier intervention, but the others scythed through the snow toward the companions.
Mary was the first to react, calling out a strident prayer and levelling her spear at the lead hound. Blinding silver light sparkled along its length before lancing toward the beast, and as the companions blinked away the dazzle they saw that it had reduced the demon to nothing more than a pile of dust!
With Tector and the Templars moving to engage in the centre of the line, luck temporarily evaded the companions. Sophia fired an arrow at one of the hounds, but succeeded only in hitting one of the Templars in the back of the shoulder, and Storm’s lightning orb exploded in his face. While Mary engaged one of the hounds, resisting the terrible pain from its glowing eyes, another sprang upon a Templar, slamming him to the ground while biting through his mail and ranking his flanks with its claws, leaving him gravely wounded. Lowering her head, Sophia extended her senses into the minds of all three remaining hounds and, with a thought, sent them sprawling into slumber!
As the companions took a few moments to despatch the hounds, Roarc and Jarleth emerged from the woods at a run. Jarleth rushed forward, straight into Storm’s lightning orb, while Roarc drew his bow and hit the dragnborn with a horribly poisoned arrow. Mary called upon God’s power, and a huge hammer of golden light swept down from the heavens, slamming into Roarc and knocking him prone. One of the hounds was not killed by the rain of blows from the Templars and was cleaved in two by a swing of Tector’s greataxe.
Sophia’s enchantment took Roarc’s mind as he stumbled to his feet, and sent him fleeing into the woods at a run, while Jarleth charged at Mary and stabbed her with his rapier. Kazimir surged from the treeline to the northwest and thundered toward the defenders. Storm launched himself forward a few yards and unleashed ice javelins on the brutal kurgen, two of which struck home. Behind the brute, Geimhreadh drifted across the snow, gesturing with his hands. The air around the group suddenly swirled in vortex of ice, buffeting them and slicing into their skin. Only Mary was outside the raging storm, trading blows with the lightning-fast Jarleth.
Still charging at the group, Kazimir hurled a spinning mass of chains at one of the Templars. It connected and wrapped around his head with a sickening crunch and he collapsed to the ground, his body twitching. Sophia missed the brute with an arrow but Tector surged forward, cleaving the kurgen with a brutal strike. Meanwhile, Roarc recovered himself, returning to the edge of the fray to unleash a blue-fletched arrow at Sophia, which crackled with electricity before slamming home , wounding her sorely.
Storm, still feeling the effects of the poison flowing through his veins, backed away from the melee, knowing that he was vulnerable. Taking cover in one of the wagons, he stood and levelled his wand of fire at Geimhreadh. The bolt of flame struck home and the sithe sorcerer screamed in agony, even as Storm himself grimaced as the pain of using the wand surged up his arm. The sithe reacted furiously, levelling his own wand and unleashing a crackling bolt of lightning on the dragonborn. Fortunately for him, Sophia saw the danger and reacted instantly, calling up the protective aura of her Solstice Amulet and hurling herself into the path of the bolt, protecting her friend from the worst of its effects and probably saving his life.
There was no relief however, as the last member of Lahm Sealguire, its fell leader Lorcan, strode from the trees, black liquid metal flowing over his skin as he walked. As he drew closer a red-hot spear of iron appeared in his grasp, which he hurled with unerring accuracy at Tector, piercing his leg and pinning him to the icy ground. Tarraby charged Geimhreadh, cutting him, while Mary and Jarleth continued to trade blows, the Templar leader calling upon God’s blessing to help the blades of her allies strike true. Roarc joined the melee as well, cutting into Tarraby’s young Templar companion and driving him back.
The two huge warriors, Kazimir and Tector, faced off, trading blows. Tector dodged the whirling chains of the kurgen, but his massive opponent sidestepped with surprising speed. Atop one of the wagons, Storm raised his arms to the heavens and conjured draconic lightning. Perhaps a storm was on the way, as the draconic form was double the normal size as it swooped down, crackling and fizzing as it flew into Lorcan. Stumbling backward in agony, the conjurer recovered himself and reacted with fury, flame wreathing his gauntleted hand as he gestured toward Storm and closed it brutally into a fist. With an agonised cry, Storm bust into flames and collapsed, toppling from the wagon onto the roadside snow.
The battle raged on, with Tector getting the better of Kazimir but the kurgen’s incredible resilience keeping him in the fight. Sophia bravely charged at Lorcan, drawing his flaming attack to be deflected by the aura of the Solstice Stone, before retreating to the blazing form of Storm to save his life for the second time in less than a minute, this time rolling him in the snow and pouring healing into his singed scales. While Jarleth and Mary continued to duel, Tarraby was having difficulty hurting Geimhreadh due to a coat of thick ice covering the latter’s skin, but the swift sithe sorcerer was ill-equipped for melee. Roarc meanwhile had the better of the other young Templar, who collapsed to the snowy ground bleeding from half a dozen wounds.
Sensing that the tide was turning, Tector called upon the power of his Brooch of Mithras, felt the adrenaline surge through him, and finally took down Kazimir with a massive sweeping cut. Sophia stabbed Jarleth with his own rapier (taken from him when Storm made his escape from Sealguire captivity a few weeks earlier) while Tector moved toward Lorcan, conjuring his frost net and flinging it over the sithe leader. He responded instantly, raising his arm and conjuring a large shield of utter darkness which caught the frost net before expanding in a rush, bursting the net apart before dissipating in a flurry of shadows. Lorcan then stepped into Tector, slamming his wickedly jagged axe through the big man’s armour and leaving a deep wound that bled profusely.
As Jarleth finally fell under the onslaught of the Spear of St Peter, and Tarraby bravely confronted Geimhreadh, taking several icy wounds for his trouble, the three companions focused their attacks on Lorcan. Sophia’s arrow struck home, but his armoured skin was so thick that it did not even penetrate! Tector, feeling his strength waning, drew on the last of his brooch’s healing power before striking the sithe in the leg, cutting deep. Storm struck the dark elf with a lightning orb, against which his iron skin offered less protection, but he responded by slashing Tector with a terrible blow that opened a major vein, the Dragonknight’s lifeblood spilling crimson over the white snow.
Seeing his friend falter, Storm called up the north wind, simultaneously lifting Tector aside and placing himself just a few yards from the sithe demonologist. Drawing in a great breath he exhaled a freezing cone of air that blasted over Lorcan, making him stagger in pain. Behind them, Mary charged at Geimhreadh, slashing him with her spear and penetrating deeply through his icy skin. As the sorcerer collapsed to the ground, his lifeblood leaking away, Tector unleashed an overhand blow on Lorcan only for the conjurer to deflect the strike with a black shield which appeared from nowhere.
Sensing the battle turn, Roarc backed away as Mary and Sophia advanced upon him. “Forgive me for taking my leave, ladies,” he said with a smile, “but I don’t fancy these odds!” With that, he turned and bolted through the trees. Desperate to prevent his escape, Storm conjured a wall of ice to trap Roarc, but the athletic dark elf managed to jump the barrier as it formed and dashed away through the trees. With Lorcan fighting on, no-one gave chase.
With enemies closing now on all sides, Lorcan traded blows with Tector once again before breaking apart in a flurry of bat-like shadows, which circled the battlefield in a whirl before hurtling off through the trees faster than the eye could follow.
As Storm kept watch, the rest of the companions rushed to the fallen Templars. One was clearly beyond aid, his head crushed by Kazimir’s chains, but the other was still alive, albeit bleeding profusely. Mary and Sophia channelled their healing to stabilise the poor young man, before turning their attention to Tarraby and Tector, both of whom were carrying serious injuries.
As they did so, the refugees cautiously emerged from the woods. Some of the men helped move the fallen Templars onto one of the wagons, and the companions searched the bodies of the fallen dark elves, recovering a quantity of gold and silver coins together with Geimhreadh’s wand and a ring of celtic design from Kazimir’s finger, both of which Storm sensed to be enchanted. Leaving the bodies of the sithe in the snow, the column set off again, Mary leading prayers for the soul of one young Templar and the deliverance of another.